Dear members of the parliament of the Ethiopian People
First, allow me to convey my warm greetings to your respected parliament and my wish for the successful accomplishment of its mission to the people of Ethiopia. I am writing this letter in the capacity of a simple Eritrean to bring to your attention a mixed feeling and my views, which I believe is shared by many Eritreans, i.e. a positive hope but also a concern and worry on the ongoing peace process.
The war between Eritrea and Ethiopia
Dear members of parliament,
From my personal experience, I would like to remind you that for the last almost 60 years except those 7 years after the independence of Eritrea, i.e. From 1991 to 1998, as Eritreans we have been in a continual threat and fighting with Ethiopia. As a consequence, there is a feeling of bitterness, suspicion and negative feelings of victimization. I myself am and has been part of this experience throughout my entire life.
Small as we are, we have paid a very huge price in our 30 years of armed struggle and this was again followed by the “Badme War”, which erupted in 1998 under the current leaders of Eritrea, but also by your parliament’s acknowledgment and decision.
Dear members of parliament,
These last 20 years were even worst, than those 30 years of war of independence in terms of human and material lose. Only in those two years, i.e. between years 1998 to 2000, we lost 1/3 of what we has lost in those 30 years of our struggle for independence. Hence this war have shredded many Eritrean lives and this also true for Ethiopians.
In my humble understanding the reason for this huge lose and fierceness of the war is twofold:
1) The handling of the problem by the leaders of the two countries, which your parliament played a role.
2) Our peoples exaggerated nationalism and fear of losing the hard won independence
When the war erupted, the reason which was given to our people was that Ethiopia started a war to thwart our independence and occupy our territory, hence the war was conducted in the name of Eritrean sovereignty. This triggered rage in the hearts of the Eritrean people, because of our past experience and fear of losing the hard won independence. Many Eritreans were saying let it cost what it costs and many also followed Ato. Isias’s saying, if Ethiopia occupies our land again, this time “Badme”, it is tantamount that the sun will never rise again.
So our peoples understanding, when the war erupted first, was a renewed threat to our independence. The propaganda from the people in power was that, Ethiopia is invading our territory and endangering our sovereignty and that was the reason for all that huge sacrifice and that big lose for both parts, Ethiopia & Eritrea.
This being from the Eritrean side, from Ethiopia, it was your parliament which was in charge and decided to conduct the war the way it happened, hence you know it better, but we all agree t was a big lose to both people and countries.
Even worse, the two year were followed by the “no war no peace “situation with a devastating consequence especially for Eritrea.
About Similarities between people
Eritrea, a product of Italian colony got its borders defined by the Italians, in a same way as all African colonies got their borders defined by the Europeans. It borders, with Sudan, Djibouti and Ethiopia and the Sea. The sea, the Red sea, always bring us both blessing and curse. Blessing because of the civilization, trade with outside world, prosperity that we got through the sea. Curse because of the wars and unrest by all the invaders who come across the sea and the continual push that we get from you, our brothers from the south. Therefore the sea has always created on us a feeling of obligation to protect it, protect what is ours. Hence, this feeling and obligation to own and protect the Red Sea is a very important issue of identity to us, Eritreans. However, the sea is to benefit all of us and be used by all of us, be it Eritreans, Ethiopians and others.
After all these years again, due to the change in Ethiopia, we started to see the glimpse of peace and when the peace process started we became hopeful. However, we are fearing again, because of what we are hearing, the utterance from both the leaders of Eritrea and Ethiopia, which made us very busy in deciphering these statements. For example, from Ato Isaias, who said: “Who he/ she thinks these two people of Eritrea and Ethiopia are different is one who does not know the truth” and then Dr. Abby, said “we had never talked about the border and borders are meaningless” wait a minute … what? What do they mean? Where are these guys heading to? , was the general question by many Eritreans, all over the world.
As Eritreans, we were dumb folded and confused when he heard such utterances because our expectation was simple and straightforward, which was to demarcate the border either way and to start business as usual between two neighboring countries and people.
But to answer to Ato Isaias, that if we Eritreans and Ethiopians are the same people?
The answer is yes and no. It depends in what context you raise and ask the question? Yes because we are people in the same area, region and besides that Eritrea was part of Ethiopia after the federation, the annexation until independence. Because of this, we have many similarities, in terms of look, culture the way we dress, eat handle our issues and many more. Especially the highland part of Eritrea is the same people like the Tigrians and Amhara of Ethiopia. But, likewise, the Hidareb are the same people with the Harendewa in Sudan, and Eritrean Afars are the same like the Afars in Djubuti.
For those who know the world, everywhere you go, you will/ can find same people but in different countries and states. For example, The Germans, in the city of Aachen have the same look, culture, beliefs, set of life like their Belgians neighbors and the Duchess from Holland. The Swedish and the Norwegians are the same people and the similarity becomes more along the border area. The Zambians looks the same and have the same culture like the Malawians and the Zimbabweans. This is just to name a few that people of the same look and identity can and live in different countries and states. Hence, I failed to understand Ato Isaias, when he brought this political rhetoric, since he is a politicians and too much of that, his utterance was not accepted by Eritreans but brought suspicion and skepticism instead.
As Dr. Abbeys’ speech about the border issue, I have already explained before the significance of the demarcation to Eritreans and the meaning of settling this issue. That the peace process starts from starting and handling the border issue seriously and with care. This is politics and politics is about managing sensitivities; and issues like this need to be well articulated and defined. We have still wounds years from way back, from the era of federation and annexation of Eritrea. We are very sensitive to words like: we are the same, Assab, ports etc… For us, when someone utters these words we need to understand clearly what he/she means and what he/ she wants. It triggers our feelings of past experience and the price we paid and it takes us to a defensive position of our interest. Every home or family have paid one, two and even more of its family members. These have made us to value genuine peace associated or connected with the real expectations of the people; we want our borders to get demarcated, and live in peace and harmony with our brothers/ neighbors. For us clarity is important, we are victims of conspiracies and wars, we are wounded people who are very paranoid to such words, who are associated with our independence and sovereignty. Now, please understand us we want be free as people and don’t want to live in suspicion. Hence, I would say the least, things have to be clear and agreements to be well defined and articulated, if not we will always be suspicious and this will and can be an impediment to the ongoing peace process, which we don’t want to happen again.
Peace & the People
The peace that we want to achieve should be, peace between the two countries and between our two people, Eritrea and Ethiopia. Furthermore, we want this peace to be genuine and transparent, which mean a process that avoids conspiracies and eliminate any suspicions. We need a sustainable peace, where trust is fostered and all political actors are relatively happy. Unfortunately, that is not the case with the on-going peace process, hence, our dissatisfaction. There are many factors which are missing and these are issues of representation and issues of transparency which need to be addressed seriously for a genuine and sustainable peace.
Dear members of parliament,
This time of our history we must achieve a genuine and sustainable peace and look forward to enjoy life as happy and trusted neighbors. We can only see and bring about a bright future for the people by closing the past chapter of our history and address the wounds, mistrust, suspicion, conspiracies, rightly. For this, your parliament bears a huge responsibility, as more than any period of the Ethiopian history, I think, this is the first time that a parliament was able to be fully accepted to represent Ethiopia and Ethiopians, the reasons being the following:
Ø All opposing political parties are allowed to conduct their political activities freely inside the country,
Ø All opposition armed forces has returned back to Ethiopia freely
Ø There are no political prisoners
Ø Full freedom of press, assembly is allowed and people are exercising this right.
Hence, although, in a process, we can say the current parliament represents almost the entire people of Ethiopia and is accepted by almost or all political parties and therefore is more democratic than any previous parliaments.
My wish is for you to continue on this path and progress and sustain it. However, with all the above achievements, on the other side, more than any time in the history of Ethiopia, the possibility for disintegration of Ethiopia has never been close as it is now. This can be seen from the lawlessness in the streets and villages, the killings and lootings, the ethnic clashes and the language of hatred and bitterness used among the people of different ethnic groups. All this is alarming and need a very careful, smart and honest handling and approach. One of this careful and honest handling is your governments approach to the on-going peace process with Eritrea. As you know almost all of your armed opposition groups were in Eritrea, and if the handling of issues continues in the same old way, secretiveness and conspiracies are the business of the day and that the peace process itself is conducted in murky way, the same politics of suspicion and non-inclusiveness will continue to infest inside Ethiopia; and there will never be a real peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia neither will be unity and harmony inside Ethiopia. The democratization process and all that acceptance of your parliament by the Ethiopian people and the various opposition parties can’t last long.
As you also know, conditions inside Eritrea are in the same way as it was before the peace process starts; that political opponents are in dungeons of the regime, the mass arrests are a daily occurrence, that there is no freedom of speech and no freedom of press. There is no representation and no participation of people in the affairs of the country. As you can see all your peace agreements are done with one man and his two messengers, where they don’t have any legitimate representation of parliament or people. And hence a risk, for it might not bring about the genuine and sustainable peace required by the two countries and two peoples.
I honestly don’t need to tell you this because you know how much it cost you to come to this level of parliamentarian representation and acceptance.
The Peace Process & Priorities
The 1998, war which is known as a “Badme” war is a border war. Although now, the regime in Eritrea is saying it was not a border war, for us Eritreans, it will always remain a border war. Because, that is why our people fought for and our martyrs will always be remembered, as fallen to maintain Eritrean sovereignty; no matter what was inside the head of Ato Isaias. Actually, this reminds me of an old saying from Amilcar Cabral, the leader of the PAIGC, a Ginue Bissaua, guerilla leader, when he said, “ We are not fighting for the ideas in once head, we are fighting to gain material benefits, to see our lives go forward and to guarantee the future of our children”, hence, no matter, the ambitions and the ideas of Ato Isaias be, our people fought the Badme war to defend the sovereignty of Eritrea thinking that Ethiopia is invading our territory and for the “no war no peace” years, because the two countries could not implement the Algeria’s agreement.
Therefore peace should start by solving this impasse first, that is, by addressing and demarcating the border and with full cooperation and acceptance of people from both sides of the border or/ and directly implementing the Algeria’s agreement. After demarcating the border the peace process can be pushed to its highest level with full accordance and heartily support of the people of both countries. Genuine and sustainable peace can only be achieved when the people who have interest in the peace are fully involved, represented and respected. Sustainable peace is a result of a WIN-WIN situation of both negotiating parties.
Having said this, I would like to bring to your attention, as much as we are happy with the new developments of peace and see the people in both sides of the border hugging each other and start living a normal life, we are very concerned and worried the way the peace process is conducted and continues. Let me make it clear once more: For us Eritreans, the issue of the border demarcation is crucial and the first step to further genuine cooperation and normalization. We want our relationship with our brothers in Ethiopia to be clear, honest and transparent. We don’t want to be suspicious and don’t like to conduct murky agreements. This is due to our past experiences and history. Hence, overcoming the suspicions and build trust and addressing issues in a clear and transparent manner, which can benefit both parties is very important. However, to the contrary, the current peace process between, the two countries is carried out in a very secretive and non-transparent manner, and can’t be acceptable for the people of Eritrea.
To make things clear when we say demarcation, we don’t mean to put walls
and fences, what we mean is a well-known, borders between the two sovereign countries. Unfortunately, this is not only with you, this is also with others neighbors, including Djibouti, We had problems on the issue with all our neighbors hence is important for us to settle it once and for all. We believe addressing the issue now can prevent other future problems and conflicts for future generations. Once, it is demarcated and we know clearly our borders we are for the idea of free movement of people, capital, and goods: and various kind and levels of agreement can be reached between the countries which can benefit us all and grow our economies and living standards. We know that it is an era of global village and we are for the view that all negotiations must emanate from the interest of both countries and from WIN-Win principle.
As Eritreans, we also connect the peace agreements with you with our internal affairs. Because, after the signing of the peace agreement in Algeria, many Eritreans were arrested including high level government officials and journalist. The accusation is that they have conspired with you, Ethiopia, with a foreign power, hence the accusation was treason. This was later followed by mass arrests through-out the years and mainly in the name of collaboration with enemy, i.e. Ethiopia. These prisoners, still suffering in the dungeons of the regime, your current peace partner, are not only simple citizens but are our heroes and leaders of our armed struggle. As a consequence of this and other handling, you know more than anyone in these world the number of youth, children, women and aged people which are daily fleeing Eritrea, to come to your borders.
We thank you for hosting the refugees but you should also remember with whom you are conducting the peace agreements and also how you are conducting it. For a viable and a sustainable peace, it need to be with Eritrea and its people not with one man and two messengers.
At the end, I would like to conclude and point out the following for your attention:
1- The peace process should start by addressing the main border issues
2- The border must demarcated ASAP
3- All economic, social and political agreements should/ can follow after fully the border issue is settled
4- Any agreement should be in the spirit and principles of Win-Win
5- Bear in mind that Eritrea does not have a parliament and a legal institution that represents all parts of the population at the moment. Hence, the weight of all agreements should reflect the current situation. In short, there issue of legitimacy.
6- Bear in mind the agreements might not be accepted at all by the Eritrean opposition organizations, in that case it can and will be null and void at least by those organizations and their followers
7- Although, may be not your full responsibility, I advise you to ask for a legal representatives to deal with instead one man and two messengers, think issue of sustainability.
8- All peace processes should be with the involvement, representation of both people and to the common and mutual interest of both countries and people
In my humble opinion, the above points has to be partly or wholly accepted. Addressing those issues is the way forward to achieve a sustainable peace and progress for the two countries and people.
May genuine and sustainable between Eritrea and Ethiopia prevail.